Covid-19: Foster and O’Neill united in struggle to save lives

Northern Ireland’s Executive demonstrating ‘common purpose’, say political leaders

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill rejected any suggestion of disunity. File photograph: PA

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill rejected any suggestion of disunity. File photograph: PA

 

The North’s First and Deputy First ministers admitted on Monday to a “difference of emphasis” on tackling the coronavirus crisis, but said the Executive’s “common purpose” is to save lives.

The DUP’s Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill of Sinn Féin rejected any suggestion of discord and said differing views were to be expected in a five-party Executive.

On Monday Northern Ireland recorded another coronavirus fatality, bringing the North’s death toll to 22. A further 123 infections were also identified, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 533.

Executive Ministers are due to meet the Irish Government in a North-South meeting later on Tuesday.

There have been tensions within the North’s Executive over whether to follow the guidance from the UK government, or to adopt an all-island approach and policies more in line with those of the Irish Government.

Ms O’Neill expressed “concerns around protection for staff with [personal protection equipment] PPE. I have concerns around the level of testing, that we’re not doing enough in terms of community testing”. And she said she would continue to raise such concerns.

But, she added, “this isn’t an orange and green issue. This isn’t a Dublin versus London [issue], it’s not even about the DUP versus Sinn Féin. This is about me standing up for the views that I have heard from those people who work on the front line and I will continue to do that.”

There have also been differences between the parties over which firms should remain open and which should close.

A business forum aimed at resolving the issue, and chaired by the Labour Relations Agency, held its first meeting on Monday.

Mrs Foster said it had been a “very good meeting” and the outcome of its discussions would be presented to the Executive for consideration.

“None of these issues are easy, we know that . . . but we need everyone to be on the same page as to what is expected in the workplace,” she added.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland revealed that two of its members have been diagnosed with the virus and several other officers and staff are self-isolating as a precaution.

The police service said there had been some issues with people driving to parks and beaches over the weekend, but the “vast majority” of people are complying with restrictions.

Chief Constable Simon Byrne told BBC Radio Ulster that there had been “a few occasions over the weekend where we have stepped up patrols in some of our beauty spots where we have had to advise people to go home”. But in general people had been “really responsible and co-operative”.

Meanwhile, the band Snow Patrol and The Lightbody Foundation – the charity founded by the band’s singer Gary Lightbody – have announced they are to donate £150,000 (€169,000) to food banks in Northern Ireland.